- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

Hundreds of spoken-word enthusiasts filed through the doors of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History yesterday to celebrate Black History Month during a program titled “Hip Hop & Slam: A Celebration of the Verbal Arts.”

Rod Murray, host of Voice of America’s “Hip Hop Connection,” a weekly radio production heard throughout Africa, entertained the audience of about 300 with a live broadcast of the hourlong show from the museum’s Carmichael Auditorium.

“Songs will be played, drops will be played. This is going to be a little different but, hopefully, you all will enjoy it,” Mr. Murray told the audience shortly before the show went live with performances and interviews with reggae artist Jo Dread, DJ Kool and Goodie Mob presents the Lumberjacks.

Reuben Jackson, a poet and archivist at the National Museum of American History, opened the five-hour program and engaged the audience with light banter and humor before introducing several poets who recited their poetry on stage.

“This is a celebration of the verbal arts,” said Mr. Jackson, 48. “Hip-hop, if you will, is an extension of the African-American spoken-word tradition. For me growing up in church, [I was always amazed] at what ministers could do with text.”

He also said any discussion about the genre and its roots should include the importance of such people as musician Gil Scott-Heron and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“And since I work with young writers, I try to show them that this is a part of a long river,” Mr Jackson said. “And, like anything, some is better than others. … The potential for what can be expressed is great.”

Joseph S. Briggs, a spoken-word performer who grew up in Northeast but now lives in Bowie, recited his poem “It’s Got to Stop,” which he penned in 1992.

Mr. Briggs, 49, said the inspiration for his poem was people getting on the phone and expecting an outside entity to come in and make problems go away, instead of taking responsibility for things going on in neighborhoods, communities and homes.

“That’s not going to happen,” he said. “We must stand up and take responsibility for our own communities.”

The audience was taken on a trip down hip-hop memory lane during the show with a tribute to such popular artists as the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow and LL Cool J, the first rapper to be featured on the cover of Ebony in the late ‘80s. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons also was credited for his vision in the industry.

Mr. Murray played the soon-to-be released record “Have a Good Time” by local artist DJ Kool, who talked about the new record and predicted the winner of the Super Bowl.

“I try to keep it clean and keep it moving,” he said. “And the Philadelphia Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl.”

During the second portion of the program, eight poets took to the stage to present their work. One of them, Nick Pelzer, 26, an Arlington resident, recited his poem, “N-Theory.”

Mr. Pelzer said he enjoyed the program for several reasons.

“I like that everybody here seems genuine, and they’re enjoying an opportunity to do their work,” he said. “It feels good to be able to share. We all just want to be heard, and we have something to share with one another. This is our month.”

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